Gianficaro: Zuckerberg must do about-face on Holocaust denier
Holocaust education advocates like Rhonda Fink-Whitman, of Bensalem, believe Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is doing a disservice to survivors, including her mother, by allowing groups to post lies and distortions about the atrocities committed against Jews by the Nazis during World War II.
By PHIL GIANFICARO, The Intelligencer and Bucks County Courier Times, July 31, 2020 Click for full report plus graphics and photographs.
Manfred Joel would suggest otherwise. He’d convince the Holocaust deniers who flood Facebook today with revisionist history they are so very wrong. Dangerously wrong. The 32-year-old former boxer and plumber would also implore Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to quiet their cold voices instead of supporting and defending their platform of hate.
But Joel can’t.
“In January of 1944, my grandfather was pulled out of a hiding place in Berlin by the Nazis, thrown on a truck, and taken to Auschwitz,” said Rhonda Fink-Whitman, an author and Holocaust education advocate, on Thursday morning from her home in Bensalem. “When my husband and I visited Auschwitz, we looked up his records. We learned that since he wasn’t there long enough to get a tattoo, a number, he was gassed within an hour of arrival.”
Joel’s wife, Regina, would also tell the deniers like the Committee for Open Debate on the Holocaust they are wrong. Dead wrong. As she was led into Bergen-Belsen concentration camp at age 36, she noticed a hill in the distance. It was a hill of corpses. She lived till age 94. I dare you to call her lucky.
Graphic photographs and survivors’ horrifying accounts are ignored by the deniers. Framed not as lies but embellishments. But facts surrounding the ideological and systematic state-sponsored prosecution and mass murder of approximately 6 million European Jews, as well as millions of others by the German Nazi regime of Adolf Hitler between 1933 and 1945, say otherwise.
While there have been many calls and efforts to remove the deniers’ hate speech from Facebook, Zuckerberg has resisted classifying it as such. “I don’t think that they’re intentionally getting it wrong,” he says.
The Claims Conference, which advocates for Holocaust survivors globally, has argued that Holocaust denial is intentional and therefore violates Facebook’s own community standards.
“It’s definitely hate speech,” said Fink-Whitman. “Is it anti-Semitism? It could be. But it could come from a certain bias, or ignorance, or mental illness, or stupidity. Maybe their minds cannot process the enormity of the atrocities. It could be any or all of the above. But we know the Holocaust existed.”
Since 2013, Fink-Whitman has been on a national crusade to convince lawmakers in all states to mandate Holocaust education be taught in schools. So far, she has convinced 15 states to do so, and many others are considering adding it to their curriculum.
“There’s no magic formula,” she said. “It’s just a matter of people in those states believing in the cause. It’s about educating people and finding legislators who may have a personal connection to the Holocaust or visited a camp. You have to convince them it’s important.”
In Oregon last year, guess who helped convince the legislature to make Holocaust education in school law? The deniers.
“They showed up and tried to shut down the hearing on the mandate,” Fink-Whitman said. “They tried to give reasons why Oregon shouldn’t pass the bill. The advocates pointed to the deniers and said they’re the reason we need the bill passed. The deniers proved our point. It got passed.”
Fink-Whitman keeps the facts of the atrocities alive by having survivors visit schools and speak to students, to accurately state that Zyklon B gas was used to kill prisoners in the camps, not to kill lice to protect the prisoners from typhus, as the deniers state. The degree of lice and typhus in which Regina Joel was found covered at the moment of her liberation proves the point.
Zuckerberg must come to his senses and view the deniers for what they are and shut them down.
“It’s not free speech he’s allowing; it’s an abuse of free speech,” Fink-Whitman said. “If he’s trying to appease the deniers to allow it on his platform, he does it at his own and my peril. You’d think he’s have more of a moral compass, given that he’s Jewish.”
The deniers continue posting revisionist history, also known as lies, on Facebook. Folks like Fink-Whitman push back harder. So does a group called #NoDenyingIt, the first-ever Holocaust survivor-driven digital campaign. Beginning Wednesday, a daily recorded message from Holocaust survivors to Zuckerberg will be posted on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, owned by Facebook.
And if Fink-Whitman had the opportunity to meet Zuckerberg?
“I’d want to shake him,” she said. “I’d want to say, ‘What are you doing? Look at how hard I work and others do by teaching kids about the Holocaust. You’re undoing all the good we’re doing by allowing this hate speech. We take a step forward and you push us two steps back.’”
Fink-Whitman would also invite Zuckerberg to meet her mom. I’ve spoken to her. She’d educate him on the Holocaust. Help him to locate his moral compass. Educate him but good, for the greater good.
There’s no denying that.